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O’Neill’s quick on the draw

Coleraine 2-2 Cliftonville

Paul O’Neill bagged a late goal on his debut as Cliftonville earned a battling point at a rain-lashed Coleraine this evening.

Ahead through Rory Hale’s superb early lob, the Reds found themselves behind at the break thanks to close-range finishes from Aaron Traynor and James McLaughlin but were rewarded for a spell of sustained pressure when, with just six minutes left on the clock, the alert Daire O’Connor kept the ball alive wide on the right and delivered for O’Neill to produce the finish.

There was still time remaining for O’Neill to strike the post in a goalmouth scramble before Ian Parkhill rattled the crossbar at the other end in a frantic finish.

Though Cliftonville had enjoyed a bright opening few minutes, there could have been no predicting the means by which they would make the breakthrough; goalkeeper Aaron McCarey’s long kick upfield flicked on by O’Neill into the path of Hale, who got the better of the advancing Gareth Deane with an inch-perfect finish.

Coleraine would level on 20 minutes, however, when Traynor was quickest to react after McCarey had parried Gareth McConaghie’s free-kick and the hosts would turn the tie around just before the interval when McLaughlin got the most delicate of touches on Ian Parkhill’s fizzed delivery.

The Reds almost equalised in the opening minutes of the second-half when a snapshot from O’Neill crept just past the post, while the closest the Bannsiders came to extending their advantage was a Jamie Glackin strike that whistled inches wide of the mark.

Despite enjoying the bulk of possession, Cliftonville were repeatedly frustrated in their attempts to weave a path to goal but finally made their breakthrough in bizarre circumstances when, with visiting players appealing for a corner and Coleraine defenders expecting a goal kick, O’Connor was first to realise that the ball hadn’t actually gone out of play and, after getting away from Traynor and McConaghie, he picked out O’Neill, who bundled the ball into the net from close range.

The new recruit went close to banking a winner when, in the aftermath of Aaron Donnelly having a shot blocked on the line by Evan Tweed, he watched a toe-poked attempt roll against the base of the post.

If the Reds were cursing he woodwork on that occasion, they were grateful for it when, just as the tie crept into injury-time, Parkhill let fly from distance only to see his attempt cannon back off the bar and thus ensure the evening would end with the points shared.

Cliftonville: McCarey, Breen, Harney, R Curran (O’Connor, 70 mins), Donnelly, Doherty, Hale, Lowe, Kearns (Teggart, 60 mins), Coffey (McCrudden, 78 mins), O’Neill. Unused subs: Dunne, Casey, Hyland, O’Brien.